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Up close and very personal.

For the public at large - and even many fight fans - Mike Tyson will forever be associated with a legally questionable 1992 rape conviction and with the 1997 fight in which he twice bit his opponent Evander Holyfield on the ear.

Among the several accomplishments of this fascinating documentary portrait is that it reminds us how fierce and dazzlingly fast a fighter he was before he became famous for other things.

The film opens with Tyson's 1986 defeat of Trevor Berbick to win the WBC heavyweight title at the age of just 20 and includes footage of many of his fights on the way up and down. Less than a fortnight after David Tua's demolition of Shane Cameron, it's a reminder of the whirlwind speed and titanic force that was Tyson.

Much more than a standard biopic, this is a film notable for its absence of attitude - which is an attitude in itself, of course. Don't look here for a high-minded condemnation of boxing's bad boy; for the coup de grace on a wounded warrior; or for an attempt to rehabilitate a misjudged man.

Director Toback, a longtime friend of Tyson's, makes no attempt at balance, instead letting the faded fighter riff on his favourite subject - himself - mostly in a series of heavily edited monologues shot in an eerily white living room. The result is a portrait of a tortured soul, of a man who commands pity and awe, fear and contempt in roughly equal measure.

In many ways it's a classic, even a cliched story of the fatherless son of an alcoholic mother growing up the depressed Brownsville part of Brooklyn. Teased for his high-pitched lisping voice, he gained respect with his fists. At 14, he came to the attention of a trainer, Cus D'Amato, who taught him how to channel his anger - but crucially, of course, he never learnt to deal with it.

Toback chops the film into split-screen chunks, often overlapping different sound bites, which makes the material into a aptly crazy collage, a perfect visual correlative to Tyson's fractured state of mind.

It takes us in close, both visually - the fighter's face, in close-up, often fills the screen - and emotionally. You may not like what you see - although it would take a hard heart to see Tyson as more evil than damaged - but it's hard to think of a more revealing portrait of a sportsman ever captured on film.

Peter Calder


: James Toback

Running time

: 89 mins


: R13 (violence, offensive language, sexual references)